Another slightly unusual A:B comparison post: a direct cut-to-disk modern recording, with some of the best of current British jazz musicians, up against a Van Gelder mastered fifty year old Blue Note vinyl, with some of the best mid-Sixties players, including Herbie Hancock.
The comparison is the same composition, Hancock’s Oliloqui Valley, both stereo editions, obviously different interpretation and presentation. The Blue Note has the slightly unfair advantage of having the actual composer at the keys.
Points of comparison are many, musicanship, for a start. In an interview in April 2007, Quentin Collins cites Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard as important influences. Quentin, I’ve some good news, we have Freddie Hubbard over on the other track to test your chops. How well does Jason Rebello stand up against Herbie Hancock? Herbie is still with us, but here he is fast approaching the peak of his acoustic playing, on Blue Note, in the mid-Sixties. How well can Brits play “jazz” today? How do they fare in direct comparison with their influences. You have it all to choose from, not just “the latest”.
Another comparison dimension is tempo, swing and attack. Hancock’s Empyrean Isles has a background of menace and foreboding, sparse, hanging notes, the tunes slither past, very post-bop. Fast forward fifty or more years, ears informed by fifty years of a different beat, in particular the influence of “smooth jazz” and let’s be honest, dance music. We have seen two decades of Blue Note samples remixed for the dance floor. Only last week I received a promotional mailing from someone who claims to have achieved a sucessful fusion of classic Blue Note tunes and rap, complete with his own lyrics. I gotta tell you, I was at a loss for words. Or words that rhyme.
The point has been made previously regarding direct cut (Clifford Jordan/Hank Jones Hello Mr Jones, for Eastwind) and its pressure on musicians to play safe, and probably immense relief on the part of the engineers to get it in the bag in one take. Chasing The Dragon actually ran with a second take direct cut, which was agreed to be better, so the first take effectively offered a practice run. The session Index of the Hancock Englewood Cliffs date tells its own story, June 17, 1964. Looks to me they had quite a few runs to finalise Oliloqui Valley and other tracks
tk.3 Oliloqui Valley (alternate take) Blue Note CDP 7 84175 2
1372 tk.5 One Finger Snap Blue Note BLP 4175
1373 tk.14 Cantaloupe Island Blue Note BLP 4175, BN-LA399-H2
1374 tk.17 The Egg Blue Note BLP 4175
tk.19 One Finger Snap (alternate take) Blue Note CDP 7 84175 2
1375 tk.24 Oliloqui Valley Blue Note BLP 4175, BST 899
As a photographer, you often take dozens of pictures, discard most , to arrive at the one that works best. With direct to disc, you are more or less back to taking just one picture, no subsquent adjustment, you have what you have.
Sound quality is another issue for comparison. It is not difficult to beat the poor quality of a lot of modern recordings, with a few notable exceptions, the bar is set quite low in that respect. Quentin Collin’s previous album “Road Warrior” on vinyl is horrid, like CD digital transfer onto vinyl. The question is how a direct cut compares with the golden age of all-analog engineering and mastering, through conventional tape and acetate, not with the poor quality produced today.
I sense we might be getting into SHF territory. (Steve Hoffman Forum, or Sh’… Hits Fan) , the agenda of modern wide spacious soundstage in Tone Poets, information-richness, and critique of Van Gelder, professional jealousy runs rampant.
Chasing The Dragon’s specialty is classical recording on location, and the Quentin Collins is only their second jazz outing. To be fair, by 1964, Van Gelder had ten years practice recording small group acoustic modern jazz.
Direct cut to disc eliminates any loss in sound quality incurred by mastering from tape, by cutting out the tape step. Does the result offer a superior sonic experience compared with the best of the golden age of sound engineering, mastering conventionally from tape?
Regular readers will be familiar with the LJC maxim: “Compared To What?” . This a direct comparison, within the limitations of WordPress player. You don’t have to take my word for anything, you listen, you come to your own conclusions.
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You can read here The Reel To Reel Rambler Dave Denyer’s walk through the day of the recording session at Air Studios, including all the equiment nuances only tape-heads understand.
Quentin Collins All Star Quintet – Artists
Quentin Collins, trumpet; Jason Rebello, piano; Gary Husband, drums; Joe Sanders, double bass; Miles Bould, percussion; recorded Summer 2019 at Air Studios, Hampstead, recording engineer Mike Valentine, mastering engineer John Webber
Reference comparison: original Van Gelder stereo master; Herbie Hancock – Oliloqui Valley, Empyrean Isles, Liberty press, circa 1967. (I have the first edtion mono, a much less level playing field, so the Liberty stereo plays, Van Gelder metal)
Selection 2: Oliloqui Valley (Hancock)
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Blue Note Artists
Freddie Hubbard, cornet; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Anthony Williams, drums, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 17, 1964, recording and mastering engineer Rudy Van Gelder.
Vinyl 1: Chasing The Dragon VALDC013 Direct Cut 180 gm vinyl, pressing by Optimal, Germany.
Blue Note Liberty Liner Notes – slightly grubby, but worthy, over 50 years old, like this owner. No-one on the back cover of the original is laughing and posing for the camera. Collins ensemble camaraderie is sort of what they do on social media nowadays, selfie-photo, “falsies”, but Joe Sanders – one finger pointing to the sky, politics, has no place here. Artwork matters, art direction score zero.
I first heard this recording at a high-end audio show in a large showroom filled with hi-fi buffs,through big high end speakers. I was impressed with what I heard in that setting and volunteered to do a review. After a few production delays, finally, postie arrived.
For any who are unfamiliar with Quentin Collins, which included me, his bio is found on his own site QuentinCollinsMusic.com I listen mostly to musicians who are what doctors refer to as “deceased”. I don’t listen much to contemporary jazz recordings because I have so many beautiful original recordings by players of the golden age ’50s and ’60s’
Quentin’s cv, performing and touring with ” internationally renowned artists including Fred Wesley, Gregory Porter, Mark Ronson, Omar, Basement Jaxx, Roy Ayers, Alicia Keys, Dennis Rollins and Mulatu Astatke.” sounds like commerial success, well done, every musician needs that. And dead musicians are no competition when it comes to live performance. But vinyl is a preservative, renders music immortal, thus the dazzling skills of all those gone before compete for space on my turntable.
Chasing the Dragon have produced an album which stands tall by comparison with many modern recordings, certainly the limited number I have heard. Whether it stands taller than those recordings decades earlier, which many readers at LJC have on their shelves, as original editions, you must decide. It’s all in the comparison
Musicianship comparison, Engineering comparison, what do you think?